Jesus the Rule BreakerPosted: August 25, 2013
Jesus the Rule Breaker
SLIDE 7: WHICH JESUS?
Much recent New Testament scholarship has focused upon the difficulty of finding the authentic Jesus in the gospels. He left no autobiography. The stories and teachings we do find in the New Testament are related from particular points of view. In Mark we find a very energetic and very human Jesus, always on the go. Mark’s Jesus also never publicly pointed to himself as the chosen one. Matthew tends to see Jesus from a Jewish Christian perspective, emphasizing his adherence to the Jewish Law and the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures. Luke presents us with a very gentile friendly Jesus who was particularly concerned for the poor and the status of women. And the Gospel of John presents a fairly other worldly Jesus, who speaks in long monologues and publicly points to himself as the Son of God. In all of our interpreting of the gospels we have to be careful we are not trying to read back into Christ what we want to see – liberal Jesus, conservative Jesus, middle of the road Jesus, high church Jesus, non-conformist Jesus.
SLIDE 8: JESUS CRITISIZED AS A RULE BREAKER
Our gospel lesson this morning has enough parallels in the New Testament we can have reasonable confidence that Jesus was regarded by some of the Pharisees as a rule breaker. Again and again Jesus was criticized for breaking Sabbath rules, for being lax in his observance of the purity laws, and further he associated with people who were considered to be unclean – sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes.
SLIDE 9: KEEP THE COMMANDMENTS
In the First Century Jesus was probably considered a Pharisee from the liberal tradition of Rabbi Hillel. More conservative Pharisees from the conservative school of Shammai, would have considered him a rule breaker and a blasphemer. Jesus did not advise people to disregard the law. Indeed, when the rich young ruler asked him what he should do to inherit eternal life, Jesus replied: keep the commandments.
Then the young man asked, “Which ones?”
And Jesus replied, “You shall not murder; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother; love your neighbor as yourself. Do this and you will live?”
SLIDE 10: RULES MAKE LIFE IN COMMUNITY POSSIBLE
Jesus was clearly encouraging the young person to follow the commandments. And we need to acknowledge that rules help to make life in society possible. For instance, we should obey the traffic laws, so we can all drive safely on our roads. We have laws to protect our environment our air and our water, so we don’t poison ourselves. We have rules to help regulate our life in community. Rules intended to protect the powerless from the powerful. Laws governing equal access to public facilities. Laws protecting workers from unsafe working conditions and regulating employment practices to help protect workers from discrimination and exploitation.
Rules help to make life in community possible.
SLIDE 11: WHAT HAPPENS WHEN RULES GET IN THE WAY?
But what happens when rules get in the way? Communities can tie themselves up in knots over rules. Michael Piazza in his book on renewing the mainline church notes that many of our churches have more pages in their by-laws than they have members in their pews. He asks the question, how misbehaved can these people be that they need more rules than they have people?
SLIDE 12: WHAT HAPPENS WHEN RULES BENEFIT SOME BUT NOT OTHERS?
We can also ask what happens when the rules are formulated to benefit some groups and individuals and discriminate against others – like the system of segregation in this country that relegated African Americans as second class citizens. In the face of that injustice Martin Luther King led people in non-violent direct action – civil disobedience — to challenge the laws of segregation.
SLIDE 13: LETTER FROM A BIRMINGHAM JAIL
Fifty years ago Martin Luther King Jr. addressed the issue of civil disobedience in the face of discriminatory laws in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail:
“You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, it is rather strange and paradoxical to find us consciously breaking laws. One may well ask, “How can you advocate breaking some lays and obeying others?” The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: there are just laws, and there are unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all. . . .”
“We can never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal’ and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was ‘illegal.’ It was ‘illegal’ to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. But I am sure that if I had lived in Germany during that time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers and sisters even though it was illegal. . . .”
SLIDE 14: 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON
As we approach the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington this next week we can remember the, “I have a dream speech.” We can look forward to the dream of a nation changed by love — the dream of Jesus that love should be the rule of God – a love that frees all people from injustice: Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, Men, Women, Gay, Straight, Rich and Poor. We can look forward to the day of the fulfillment of the dream.
SLIDE 15: CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE
Now we should note that out of respect for the rule of law advocates of civil disobedience have always been willing to submit to arrest and imprisonment, rather than violent resistance, when they challenge unjust laws. Indeed one of the tactics of non-violent direct action used by Gandhi in India and Martin Luther King in the United States was to fill the jails. If enough people can be united in challenging injustice, they can’t arrest all of us. The insistence upon non-violence in direct action is to ground whatever protest is being launched in love – overcoming injustice with love.
SLIDE 16: LOVE AND COMPASSION ARE THE HEART OF THE LAW
And love brings me back to Jesus. Jesus was addressing his own culture that was so bound up in rules that there was no room for love and compassion. In our scripture today, Jesus addressed the leaders of the synagogue demanding of them, “Why would you condemn this poor women to suffer another day, when her healing is right here at hand? Are we not permitted to show compassion on the Sabbath? Do you not water your oxen or pull your donkey out of the well on the Sabbath? Why in the name of love would you wait to relieve someone’s suffering because of a rule about the Sabbath?”
For Jesus love and compassion are at the heart of the law and always take precedence over the letter of the law. When asked, what was the heart of the law? Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And the issue of waiting brings me back to Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”
SLIDE 17: JUSTICE TOO LONG DELAYED IS JUSTICE DENIED
“History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. . . .
“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have never yet engaged in a direct-action movement that was ‘well timed’ according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of discrimination. For years now I have heard the word ‘wait.’ It rings in the ear of every oppressed person with piercing familiarity. This ‘wait’ has almost always meant ‘never. . .’ We must come to see that. . . ‘justice too long delayed is justice denied.’”
SLIDE 18: FREE AT LAST, FREE AT LAST THANK GOD ALMIGHT FREE AT LAST
It is time, time when all human beings need to be welcomed, embraced and affirmed in God’s house. It is time, when the people’s aspirations for freedom around the globe need to be affirmed by our nation rather than compromised and frustrated by political expediency. It is time to treat people who struggle with mental illness with compassion and dignity. It is time to extend the full protection of the laws to all people. It is time to make love the rule, so that compassion might become the way of the land and all of God’s children might join in the mighty chorus: “Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, free at last.”